For the few Mariners players who might have gone to summer camp in their youth — though most were likely playing baseball during that time of the year — the rebranded, sponsored and monetized restart of spring training for the truncated 2020 season won’t feel like any camp they attended.
Not many camps would begin with a daily temperature test just to enter a building, or have a cotton swab inserted up the nasal passage or along the cheek to test for a virus that sparked a global pandemic every other day for safety.
But this is the world that baseball must exist in for the foreseeable future with the constant threat of the spread of the coronavirus lingering like foreboding storm clouds.
So “Summer Camp” presented by Camping World, which is what MLB is trying to sell after the protracted and at-times pugilistic negotiations that finally resulted in baseball returning for a 60-game regular season, officially began Wednesday for all 30 teams amid a massive wave of positive tests in several areas where teams are located, including Florida, Arizona, Southern California and Texas.
Those invited by each team to be part of their 60-player summer camp roster (40-man roster and 20 nonroster invites) had to report by Wednesday.
Most of the invited Mariners players and coaching staff started arriving in Seattle over the weekend to take care of their initial test for COVID-19, get checked out by the team’s medical staff and also take part in a class, educating them about the coronavirus and prevention.
There were no scheduled workouts Wednesday or Thursday, but the team planned to allow players to work out on their own or with a position coach if needed.
Almost every team, including the Mariners, scheduled the first official workouts for Friday. With the spatial limits of T-Mobile Park, the plan is to have two workouts — a morning and afternoon — featuring pitchers and position players in each, spread out across the facility to take advantage of the field, the bullpen mounds, both the home and visiting weight rooms and batting cages and the concourses.
A limited group of media will be allowed to cover the workouts from the press box starting Friday, with player and coach availability via Zoom.
The Mariners’ 60-man summer camp roster is a mix of players expected to use the 60 regular-season games to generate MLB experience and top prospects who will remain on the “taxi squad” for the entire season, but will benefit from the daily workouts and expected intrasquad or simulated games to be played at Cheney Stadium in Tacoma.
The summer camp is roughly three weeks with multiple intrasquad games expected to be played toward the end.
The regular season schedule has yet to be released, though multiple sources said they hope it will be finalized soon and unveiled by MLB on Friday. There will be split opening days for teams with about half opening on July 23 and the rest on July 24. Teams are expected to play 60 games over 66 days, with the season ending on Sept. 27. The postseason, for now, is limited to 10 teams like in past years though there are reports that MLB and the MLBPA are still discussing a possible expansion to 16 teams.
“I think it’s going to be exciting,” said John Stanton, the Mariners chairman and managing partner. “This is going to be like ‘speed dating’ for baseball. It’s going to be a 60-game sprint to the finish with new rules like the universal designated hitter and a runner at second base for extra innings. I’m looking forward to seeing some of our young players like Evan White, Julio Rodriguez and Jared Kelenic. I’m excited and I think every Mariners fan should be excited.”
Speed dating? Well, it’s a better simile than online dating. Stanton is referring to in-person interaction and action after most of the world has been relegated to Zoom meetings.
To prepare for summer camp at T-Mobile, the organization worked with Major League Baseball, the MLB players association and state and local health officials to develop “The Mariners COVID-19 Operations Plan,” which focuses on protecting the health and safety of everyone who enters T-Mobile Park during Summer Camp and the regular season.
“For the past three months we’ve been preparing for the return of baseball here at T-Mobile Park, looking at every aspect of the operation from access to the building, health screening of all staff and players, cleanliness, housekeeping and more,” said Trevor Gooby, the Mariners’ senior vice president of ballpark operations. “We want baseball back, but we want everyone to be safe and healthy here inside the ballpark.”
Here are the main guidelines of the plan:
Return to Play Safety Plan: The Seattle Mariners operations plan outlines new policies and practices that are being undertaken to facilitate a safe return to T-Mobile Park, including:
- Limits on the number of employees, staff and players allowed at the ballpark at any given time;
- Mandatory health screenings for everyone who enters the ballpark;
- Enhanced cleaning protocols that utilize the latest technology to target suspected or known presence of COVID-19;
- A designated Infection Control/Prevention Coordinator to ensure compliance with all health and safety protocols.
Limited Access to T-Mobile Park
- The majority of Mariners employees will continue to work from home until further notice;
- A limited number of staff are designated essential for Summer Camp and regular season games;
- An even smaller number are approved to have access to restricted areas such as clubhouses, dugouts, field, etc.;
Health Screening and COVID-19 Testing
- All on-field personnel (players managers, coaches, umpires) will be tested in compliance with MLB/MLBPA’s health and safety protocols (every other day);
- Testing includes saliva or oral/nasal swabs and blood serology/antibody testing prior to and throughout Camp, the regular season and postseason;
- All on-field personnel will be screened daily before entering T-Mobile Park (symptom questionnaire and contactless temperature check) by medically licensed personnel.
- The limited number of staff who will be allowed at T-Mobile Park must undergo saliva or oral/nasal swab and blood antibody screening for COVID-19 prior to the start of Summer Camp and submit to frequent testing during Summer Camp, the regular season and postseason;
- All staff members will be screened daily before entering T-Mobile Park (questionnaire and contactless temperature check) by medically licensed personnel.
All tests will be sent to the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory (“SMRTL”), the CLIA-certified laboratory controlled by Major League Baseball located in Salt Lake City, Utah. SMRTL has converted a portion of its anti-doping laboratory (already contracted to MLB) to test for COVID-19 virus and related antibodies. Testing of players and staff will not impact the availability of testing in the local community.
Symptom Response Plan
If an individual exhibits symptoms of suspected COVID-19 while at T-Mobile Park, the Mariners have developed a response plan that includes isolation, care and monitoring by medical personnel, contact tracing, cleaning of symptomatic spaces and protocols for return of the recovered individual to the ballpark.
Infection Control/Prevention Coordinator
Matt Toth, Mariners Assistant Athletic Trainer, serves as the team’s Infection Control/Prevention Coordinator (ICPC). Toth works in conjunction with Dr. Tim Johnson, Mariners Team Physician, and Mark LaPalm, Health & Safety Consultant, to ensure compliance with all health and safety protocols. Toth is in his 15th season with the Mariners organization. He has a master’s degree in Health and Human Performance from Oregon State University and a minor degree in Public Health.
Since T-Mobile Park was closed on March 13, the Mariners have worked with contract cleaning services provider ABM to create an enhanced cleaning protocol for COVID-19 that utilizes the latest technology. ABM has expertise in this field and works closely with board certified experts in infectious disease and industrial hygiene.
Enhanced efforts include:
- Daily cleaning and disinfection of the entire facility, with particular attention paid to high traffic touch points such as handles, common areas, elevators, restrooms, etc.;
- Use of electrostatic sprayers to apply an electrically charged, broad spectrum disinfecting solution that is formulated to target suspected or known presence of COVID-19 but is nontoxic to humans;
- Installation of an ionized air purification system in clubhouses and other indoor spaces used by players and on-field personnel, trainers and clubhouse staff. The system reduces outdoor air intake and kills pathogens;
- Use of UV-C light to eliminate the threat of bacteria, viruses, mold spores and allergy-inducing microorganisms found on everyday items.
PPE & Social Distancing
- In compliance with Public Health Seattle King County directives, everyone in T-Mobile Park must wear appropriate face coverings.
- Players are exempt only while on the field or involved in strenuous activities such as working out, batting practice, strength & conditioning activities.
- On-field personnel are encouraged to spend as much time as possible outdoors and everyone who is at T-Mobile Park is required to maintain at least six-feet of physical distance from one another even while on the field.
- Dugouts, bullpens, clubhouses and all areas utilized by players and on-field personnel have been reprogrammed for appropriate physical distancing including removal of furniture and other items that encourage people to congregate. Dugout overflow will be in cordoned off seating areas above the dugouts, spaced at least six-feet apart.
Player/On-field Staff, Employee Education
MLB has created a comprehensive education programs with recommended best practices for reducing the risk of infection with COVID-19. The program was developed in consultation with medical and public health experts. The program must be completed by all players, on-field personnel and staff before returning to T-Mobile Park.